clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Ukraine cut off cooperation with Mueller to curry favor with Trump

Unprecedented conflicts of interest lead to unprecedented policy problems.

President Trump Announces Military Action Against Syria During Address To The Nation Mike Theiler - Pool/Getty Images

Andrew Kramer reports Wednesday for the New York Times that cooperation with special counsel Robert Mueller and his team has “been effectively frozen by Ukraine’s chief prosecutor” and that “the decision to halt the investigations by an anticorruption prosecutor was handed down at a delicate moment for Ukraine, as the Trump administration was finalizing plans to sell the country sophisticated anti-tank missiles, called Javelins.”

The government of Ukraine, troubled by internet problems and beset by Russian military incursions, is heavily dependent on the support of the American government for its internal stability and external security.

It’s also a country that’s at the center of Mueller’s legal case against Paul Manafort, and scoring legal wins against Manafort may be an important step in trying to turn him into a cooperating witness against President Trump or other members of his family. Naturally, then, Mueller and his team are interested in securing the Ukrainian government’s cooperation with his investigation since financial records and business dealings in Ukraine are critical to some of the charges.

Conveniently for Trump, there’s no indication that US officials directly told the Ukrainians that shutting down cooperation with Mueller was a condition of getting the anti-tank missiles.

Instead, Ukrainians say they were simply working off of their own understanding of what Trump would want them to do:

Volodymyr Ariev, a member of Parliament who is an ally of President Petro O. Poroshenko, readily acknowledged that the intention in Kiev was to put investigations into Mr. Manafort’s activities “in the long-term box.”

“In every possible way, we will avoid irritating the top American officials,” Mr. Ariev said in an interview. “We shouldn’t spoil relations with the administration.”

Trump has not fired Mueller or directly acted to impede his investigation. He has, instead, simply let it be known — via Twitter and other means — that he regards the entire inquiry as illegitimate and is in no way impressed by the charges it has brought or the plea agreements it has reached. If foreign governments happen to concur of their own accord that the way to win foreign policy concessions from the United States is to obstruct Mueller’s work, well, then, that’s their business.

And even more troublingly, it’s not just Trump and not just Ukraine.

The administration is currently nearing an important decision on Iran policy, a topic that many Middle Eastern countries have strong feelings about and interests that do not align perfectly with those of the United States. Trump has known business dealings with many of these Gulf monarchies, and we have no idea what secret deals he’s making or what cash payments are being funneled through his clubs.

No previous president would have dared to wallow in such a morass of conflicts of interest. Then again, no previous president would have led foreign countries to believe that their receipt of security assistance was dependent on them seeking to actively obstruct an ongoing criminal investigation.

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.